Course description

I teach a post-graduate unit called Sustainability & cities at UWA – outline here. The course was developed with my colleague Professor Chris Lund.

Course outline

Recently the world’s urban population reached 50 per cent of the world’s total, and by 2050 this will likely increase to two-thirds. While cities are hubs of innovation and culture, they also use over two-thirds of global energy and produce around 70% carbon emissions, as well as other forms of air pollution. Cities also use vast quantities of fresh water and materials which in turn creates solid, liquid wastes, airborne pollution, affecting human health and destroying natural systems. This unit seeks to: convey an advanced level of understanding of the sustainable development challenges facing humanity in general, and cities in particular, including energy and climate change, resource depletion, water scarcity; and prepare students to apply theories and tools to manage the transition to sustainable urban development.


Students are able to (1) interpret the impact on urban theory of the body of literature related to environmental awareness and sustainable development; (2) demonstrate an advanced appreciation of cities as complex urban systems; (3) demonstrate a critical awareness of the challenges of growth in a world constrained by climate change, resource scarcity and biodiversity loss; (4) evaluate the sustainability performance of buildings and precincts; and (5) apply the principles of sustainability and resilience to the urban design process.


A brief history of sustainability and the evolution of urban theory

This topic reviews the development of environmental awareness throughout history, leading to the modern concept of sustainable development and introduction of the principles into urban theory.

Introduction to systems thinking

This topic introduces the concept of system limits to growth, global models, sustainability and resilience.

Urban metabolism

This topic describes the city as an urban system incorporating stocks and flows of people, materials, water, food, energy and emissions.

Climate change and cities

This topic provides an overview of the current climate status and future climate change projections and illustrates the implications for cities and major population centres. It then identifies and discusses adaptation responses to reduce the challenges to the urban environment arising from climate change and outlines how resilience theory applies to cities.

Ecosystems and urban ecology

This topic describes the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and introduces the concept of ecosystem services and the importance of urban biodiversity.

Energy futures and low carbon living

This topic outlines the challenges of mitigating climate change through transformation of energy systems, transport, infrastructure and the built form and describes the implications for urban living.

Sustainability and the water cycle

This topic describes the urban water cycle and outlines the likely implications for sustainability arising from the twin challenges of climate change and growth.

Materials and introduction to lifecycle assessment

This topic identifies the material flows through the urban system and introduces life cycle assessment as a technique for measuring their consequences.

Smart cities

This topic tracks the origins and modern interpretation of smart cities, incorporating emerging technology with sustainability principles. The global role of cities and the initiatives underway to make the transition to a sustainable future are described.

Measuring sustainability performance

This topic outlines the growth of the Green Building movement and the techniques employed in to improve sustainability outcomes in the built environment.

Applying the principles – planning guidance and best practice

This topic outlines and critiques the various initiatives that have been developed to apply sustainability principles to urban design and planning.


The main assessment is a project report which involves the preparation of one component of a sustainability strategy for an urban precinct. A sustainability strategy is conventionally prepared as part of a Structure Plan for a new urban precinct or one to be re-developed. Students are allocated to groups which reflect their core degree. Each group’s topic will determine the nature and scope of the student’s individual Project Report:

  • Urban Ecology and Public Open Space Plan (by the Urban ecology group members)
  • Built Form – Energy and Carbon Management Plan (Built form group members)
  • Infrastructure and Transport – Energy and Carbon Management Plan (Infrastructure and transport group members)
  • Integrated Water Management Plan (Water group members)
  • Materials and Waste Management Plan (Materials group members)
  • Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Plan (Climate Change group members)
  • Smart City Plan (Smart Cities group members)